Ilgin Ozdemir Yazgan is a graduate of Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Mentoring Women in Business programme, and is the founder of maternity and nursing business wear brand, Accouchée. In January 2020 we launched our ambitious 100,000 Women Campaign in Davos alongside the World Economic Forum, and were delighted that she could join us to share her important thoughts and experiences through this global platform.
It all started with me becoming a mom.
After 15 years in corporate life, having worked for the European Investment Bank, GE, Accenture and Vitol, I gave birth to my son Arhan. I loved being a mom but I was not the same anymore! On one hand, motherhood was constraining and energy consuming. On the other hand, it awakened the most creative and productive version of me. Giving birth to my son gave birth to a brand. My experience as a mother, as well as a statistic I read by the World Economic Forum in 2018, served as the inspiration and a foundation for the brand. Therefore, now giving a speech alongside the 2020 WEF is beyond my wildest dreams!
According to World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Report, every year 130 million women give birth. 43% of them quit their jobs afterwards, and 60% of those who quit regret. When asked “Why do you quit?”, they answer “Because there is a stigma against new moms, it is difficult to pump at work, and there is no maternity wear for business environment”.
As a simple yet effective solution, we started selling clothes designed for nursing and beyond. Accouchée was established as a premium maternity wear for moms with active social and professional lives. Dreaming a world where nursing moms aren’t confined into their homes or nursing rooms. Hoping to inspire women to take a stance against the norm and make a statement.
In less than two years we reached more than 3000 women, from different professions or backgrounds, all whom are using Accouchée products to be as free as they used to be. Despite my time in the corporate sector, there were still challenges I faced as a woman entrepreneur. During my first year as an entrepreneur I was struggling with how to be recognised outside of my home country and to reach new markets. I was also dealing with other challenges such as high production costs due to lower scale, reliability due to being new and brand positioning to be global.
This is not unlike many other women entrepreneurs in Turkey who most overcome additional challenges. For example, according to the IFC “women-owned businesses represent 40 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Turkey, but only 15 percent have access to finance. This is particularly discouraging as the IFC found that women-founded startups were 15-25 percent more profitable than those founded by men.”
With support from the Women Entrepreneurs Academy in Turkey, I was referred to the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in the UK. I still remember the day I received an e-mail from the Foundation stating that I will be their mentee for 12 months. In the same week, I was also selected to be one of the 50 entrepreneurs, by the US Department of State, for the program of Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders. The UK and the US being the two markets I always targeted, it meant that I would be able to get support for both. It was more than I could ever dreamed of!
When I was selected as a mentee, I was confident in myself, my cause and my goals. Yet, it was hard for me to set timely goals, track progress and evaluate performance to improve myself as well as my business. The Foundation’s program provided me with a structured approach. My mentor helped me in providing clarity to things that felt complex. She was asking me pivotal questions that had huge impacts on my next steps. She was an objective judge to me and to Accouchée. Yet besides all these, being Indian, she made me realize that there are even bigger potential markets in the world I have never thought of!
In addition to the mentoring, being a part of the Cherie Blair Foundation Women mentoring programme, served as a rubber stamp of approval, which helped me to start to selling in Harvey Nichols and Galeries Lafayette, as well as the biggest mom and baby website of the Middle East, mumzworld.com. We also signed an agreement with NY based agency, which I believe has been made possible due my involvement with the mentoring programme.
As a woman entrepreneur, you can be talented, capable, ambitious, disciplined, active… Yet to the rest of the world, you are one of many. It takes a very special woman, a devoted mother, a kind heart, Mrs Blair. Thank you to you and your Foundation for “recognizing us”. Thank you for making us “the one among many”. And finally thank you for believing in Accouchée. “Everything starts with a strong and happy mother and only a happy child she raises can change the world”.
All you need is to believe and join…
The 100,000 Women Campaign will see the Cherie Blair Foundation directly support over 100,000 more women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries across the globe to build better futures for themselves, their families, their communities and the world. Click here for more information and to find out how you can help us achieve this!